Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Opened 7 August, 2005
*** / ***

The Traverse's two home-company productions on this year's Edinburgh Fringe are never less than competently written, directed and performed, but each is also significantly less than compelling.

Riccardo Galgani's The Found Man is set some time in the past in a small island community populated entirely by character types: the leader who rules by stringent pronouncements, the dissident man of principle, the slightly dim follower, the wife who shows sense in everyday matters but falls increasingly to pieces when events slip beyond her ordinary experience, the young idealist. When an unconscious outsider is washed up on the shore, he is deemed to represent a threat (an invading force or the like) and, without him saying or doing anything, the locals' various natures interact to escalate the situation little by little until it reaches murderous extremes.

Philip Wilson's production rightly takes as its keynote the flinty dourness of the community rather than the potential melodrama of the situation, with John Stahl and Liam Brennan leading the cast as the authoritarian Rafter and the more independent Moffat respectively. But once you spot (and it isn't exactly rocket science) that the whole thing is a parable for The State We're In Today and the way that even our own much larger and supposedly more complex society follows the same limited range of vectors and conjures social and political catastrophes almost out of thin air, there is nothing else of interest to the piece.

In Martin J. Taylor's East Coast Chicken Supper, meanwhile, a trio of drug-dealing ne'er-do-wells somewhere in contemporary Fife banter a bit, barney a bit and face being driven out by vigilantism among the locals. Taylor has a sharp ear and a sharper imagination for vibrant, sometimes surreal exchanges, especially on the subject of the stir-fry dish which gives the play its title, and Richard Wilson's cast of four resist all temptation to overplay things. In the end, though, it's a semi-naturalistic, semi-comical slice of grim urban life and no more. After The Found Man I had been fervently voicing my desire to see at some point this month a piece of theatre that both was a properly written play and was not an extended social metaphor; after East Coast Chicken Supper, I felt like an ingrate: having been given my wish, I could discern no point to it.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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